SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The biggest celebration for Xavier came on a shot that didn’t end up counting.
That was the kind of day it was for the Musketeers, whose memorable March run to the third Elite Eight in school history ended with a lopsided 83-59 loss to No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday in the West Regional final.
“Our guys have nothing to hang their head about,” coach Chris Mack said. “They’re obviously down. They’re competitors. I thank them for their continued belief throughout the year. It’s always tough when it ends.”
The biggest highlight for the 11th-seeded Musketeers came when J.P. Macura banked in a shot from three-quarters court at the end of the first half that seemed to give Xavier a needed boost headed into halftime.
But a replay review determined the shot got off just after the buzzer, adding another disappointment on a discouraging day. Star guard Trevon Bluiett had an off night, missing 11 of 14 shots, the Musketeers went through long stretches when they struggled to score and Gonzaga capitalized on a sagging zone defense to make 12 3-pointers.
In the end, it was the Bulldogs’ size that proved to be the biggest difference that sent Xavier to its third loss in as many trips to the Elite Eight.
Double teams on Przemek Karnowski in the post led to some open 3s for Gonzaga and the size of Karnowski and Zach Collins shut down Xavier’s offense. The Musketeers shot 35.5 percent and made only 2 of 16 3-pointers.
“They’re long so it makes it tough to score on the inside,” Bluiett said. “One of our main focuses is playing inside-out. And so when we can’t really get anything on the inside, it kind of makes it tough to create any type of offense.”
Few thought Xavier had a run like this in them after they lost six straight games starting in February after losing point guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending knee injury.
But after Mack had the players burn the February page from calendars and put the ashes in a jar that traveled with the team the rest of the way, the Musketeers beat Butler in the Big East tournament to secure an at-large bid and then made an impressive tournament run with wins over sixth-seeded Maryland, No. 3 seed Florida State and No. 2 seed Arizona.
The victory over the Wildcats was most impressive as Xavier scored the final 9 points in a 73-71 victory, but there was no magic left against Gonzaga.
“To think that our team, which everybody had us dead to right, was able to continue to believe, make the tournament and get to the point where we were playing for the Final Four, I’m extremely proud of this group,” Mack said.
Xavier fell behind by double-digits late in the first half.
After Nigel Williams-Goss’ coast-to-coast layup made it 49-39, Macura launched his shot from about 70 feet and ran off the court in celebration after it banked in. But the replay wiped it off and the game never got into single-digits again.
“I thought it was off in time, but it didn’t really bother me,” Macura said. “We were still down 10 or 7 points regardless and still needed to come off the next half and execute. And the second half they played better than we did. And that’s a big reason why we lost.”
Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews hit back-to-back 3s early in the second half and the lead quickly grew to 17 before Xavier made its first basket after halftime.
“It went from 10 to 15 really quick and we were just fighting uphill ever since,” Mack said.
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